A Vietnamese Thanksgiving

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

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The Vietnamese in the United States can easily identify with the Thanksgiving story. The pilgrims left the religious persecution in England, much like the Vietnamese boat people left the political persecution in their country. After coming to the United States, many Vietnamese have been quick to attach themselves to what might be the most American holiday, second only to Independence Day.

So, my parents always made sure to make Thanksgiving special. We always celebrated it, even if it meant we had a “Thanksgiving Lunch,” before my dad went to work that night.

But, because my parents were born and raised in Vietnam, you could say that my “regular” Thanksgiving has always been a little … skewed.

A Vietnamese Spread

The first Thanksgiving meal I remember with my family, we didn’t have turkey. Instead, we had roasted duck and pork. We didn’t have dinner rolls. We had Vietnamese baguettes from Lee’s Sandwiches, the largest Californian bánh mì chain. We didn’t have the traditional side dishes like stuffing or cranberry sauce. We had a Vietnamese spread fit for Lunar New Years.

What we did have, though, was mashed potatoes and gravy. But did we make them? Nope.

We bought them from the neighborhood KFC.

Since then, our Thanksgiving meals have been slowly getting more American. Soon after our first Thanksgiving, my mom ventured to actually prepare a turkey and mashed potatoes guided by advice from random people she met in the grocery store the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

The past few years, our home has been full of pies from Costco pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and gravy prepared by my little brother — who developed a taste for them when he had braces — cranberry sauce (I insist on it), a beef roast for people who don’t want turkey, and even stuffing.

But it’s still a “Vietnamese” dinner. We still eat baguette over rolls, there’s still no sprig of rosemary anywhere in my house, and that beef roast is marinated with soy sauce, fish sauce, and lemongrass. That stuffing? It’s made up of glass noodles, boiled quail eggs, and baby corn.

It’s still a Vietnamese Thanksgiving meal.

Leftovers

When I left home for college, my new friends and dormmates wouldn’t stop talking about their favorite part of Thanksgiving — the leftover sandwiches the week after. I was perplexed. I had never had a leftover turkey sandwich in my life, so when the dorm dining started serving them the week after Thanksgiving, I was excited.

They were … okay.

I mean, sure, they’re good. But really, who puts mashed potatoes and stuffing on bread?

And really, those sandwiches didn’t hold a candle to the leftovers I grew up with — turkey fried rice.

For those of you who’ve never tried it, you absolutely have to. Take whatever Turkey leftovers you have, dice them up, and mix them. Make whatever your favorite fried rice recipe is, but instead of the normal things you throw in, use the left over veggies and turkey. The more fat and skin you have, the better.

Growing away

During college, I couldn’t go home every Thanksgiving. As hard as I tried, sometimes class, work, and L.A. traffic would just get in the way. Trapped in Orange County with some of my friends, we started having our own Thanksgiving dinners that eventually grew into 20-plus people potlucks.

Two years ago, I was woken up two hours early on potluck day by one of my housemates. He was in charge of cooking the turkey that day, but had been called into work at the last minute. He told me I was in charge of it now.

As I trudged downstairs, bleary-eyed and slightly bewildered, my mind raced through all the Asian touches I could put on the dinner that was now my responsibility.

But, as I stared at the half frozen turkey resting in the sink, I realized something. I was in charge of a dinner for 20 different people from 20 different backgrounds, each of whom loved Thanksgiving in their own way. It was my duty to make sure they didn’t miss home too much. So I bit the bullet and made a normal “traditional” stuffing and a normal “traditional” turkey.

But the next day? You can bet I made some fried rice. (end)

Charles Lam can be reached at charles@nwasianweekly.com.

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